A Sentimental Education

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Pub Date 20 Sep 2022 | Archive Date 15 Dec 2022


How do you tell the story of a feminist education, when the work of feminism can never be perfected or completed? In A Sentimental Education, Hannah McGregor, the podcaster behind Witch, Please and Secret Feminist Agenda, explores what podcasting has taught her about doing feminist scholarship not as a methodology but as a way of life.

Moving between memoir and theory, these essays consider the collective practices of feminist meaning-making in activities as varied as reading, critique, podcasting, and even mourning. In part this book is a memoir of one person’s education as a reader and a thinker, and in part it is an analysis of some of the genres and aesthetic modes that have been sites of feminist meaning-making: the sentimental, the personal, the banal, and the relatable. Above all, it is a meditation on what it means to care deeply and to know that caring is both necessary and utterly insufficient.

In the tradition of feminist autotheory, this collection works outward from the specificity of McGregor’s embodied experience – as a white settler, a fat femme, and a motherless daughter. In so doing, it invites readers to reconsider the culture, media, political structures, and lived experiences that inform how we move through the world separately and together.

How do you tell the story of a feminist education, when the work of feminism can never be perfected or completed? In A Sentimental Education, Hannah McGregor, the podcaster behind Witch, Please and ...

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ISBN 9781771125574
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Featured Reviews

I really enjoyed this book, from the pop culture and old book references, to the non-academic language given to a topic normally discussed in an academic setting, I thought it was a great read. It made me reflect on the ways I grew up and the books and characters I grew up loving and admiring, and the ways they have affected culture and the universalization of the white women experience. I really appreciated how the author made a point of mentioning her background and her identity, because in a non fiction book it's very important to get where the ideas are coming from. It made me really excited to look into the podcasts that she's worked on.
It also meant a lot to see how she understood there's a responsibility for white women to acknowledge that their experience of oppression doesn't erase the way they have been oppressors to people and specially women of color.
The reason this book wasn't a 5 stars of me is that some parts felt repetitive, and that made me lose focus and interest at times. It was still a very interesting book and I'll be recommending it, specially for young women who love Jane Austen, the Brontë sisters and that kind of books, because it felt like a necessary reflection to do about this type of literature.

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I have been a huge fan of Hannah McGregor from the early days of the first run of the Witch, Please podcast. It was a really fun change of pace to read some of her academic writing. This book was accessible and approachable for a lay audience, while still challenging me to bring some of my rusty undergraduate education to bear. I really enjoyed the way McGregor wove in elements of her personal life, career history, and evolution as a teacher and an academic. It is so satisfying to read a work by a brilliant feminist. I will definitely be suggesting this title to our librarian who purchases adult nonfiction. I think everyone who reads, or really consumes any format of media, can benefit from the self-reflection that is modeled in this work. Highly recommend!

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As a fan of Hannah McGregor's podcasts and various other works, this has been one of my most anticipated books of the year. I'm happy to say that it did not disappoint; McGregor offers nuanced and thoughtful analysis of feminism, podcasting, storytelling, and meaning-making. I love how she combines theory with stories from her own life to create something both unique and incredibly tangled in the feminist texts that came before it.

The essays in this book made me reflect on my own position as someone who grew up as a white girl who loved to read, as well as a queer trans adult who has both gravitated towards and away from academia, depending on how you look at it. Any time I thought McGregor might be oversimplifying or sugarcoating something in this book, she brought it back to a more nuanced approach and ended somewhere much closer to what I would consider the truth. I learned a lot from this book, and I appreciate it so much as a model of what we can do when we both lean into our own stories and recognize the limitations and dangers within that practice. This is a book about making meaning together through a feminist framework, and I would recommend it to anyone and everyone.

Thank you to Netgalley and Wilfrid Laurier University Press for the chance to read and review this ARC.

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I’m a fan of McGregor’s podcasts both Witch, Please and Secret Feminist Agenda so I was very excited to read an ARC of this book through NetGalley. I expected to enjoy the book but what I didn’t expect was for the ways this book would touch me so deeply and make my heart swell with tenderness and love.

This book approaches a variety of topics through memoir, personal anecdote, and through theory. The topics covered are wide ranging but touch on a ton of media I care about - Harry Potter, This American Life, etc. the ability to reflect and acknowledge how they shape different points in your life while not shying away from looking back at them and critiquing them earnestly is such a healing and profound read in the context of the book.

I found myself thinking more critically and more lovingly. I love how tangled these fragments, ideas, and perspectives get in each essay. There’s not one clear easy answer but you’re guided through the tangle to deeper perspectives and closer nuance.

The essays really got me to reflect on my own life, perspectives, and experiences but also gave me many moments of reflection that were challenging. I’m already sensing that I’m going to aggressively recommend this to every person I know because I truly think there’s something sentimental that everyone will find to connect to and something that will challenge each reader in a good way.

Read through Netgalley and Wilfrid Laurier University Press. I’m grateful for the opportunity to read and review this ARC. I’ve already preordered a physical copy as well so that I can highlight, annotate, and scribble to my heart’s content.

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This book was a little more academic, and less memoir, than I expected - but I still enjoyed it none the less. The author is very charming - I know her work from various podcasts, and so I knew I liked her ideas, which is what drew me to this title. After reading this I have a new critical lens on how I will be looking at works I consume, as the theory in this book really got to me!

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I will be needing a physical copy of this book once it's out - the amount of notes I ended up taking and new articles/podcasts/books I want to dive into are far too long! But that's the wonderful thing about A Sentimental Education - it makes me excited to apply what was shared and practice viewing banal things with a more critical lens.

Through various topics (from fatphobia to the commodification of relatability and more!), McGregor deftly weaves academic thought with story-like prose to create an engaging piece of work. Every time you think she's about to lead you to a decisive, concluding thought, she takes a step back and presents a more nuanced take than what you'd expect. And I really like how it made me pause (as a consumer of this work and so many other forms of media) and question the purpose behind what I was consuming.

Her insights into how sentiment is a two-edged sword were especially impactful. The way in which it is wielded can determine whether it is a passive, performative action or a meaningful one.

I'll end this review with one (of many) of the quotes I wrote down:
"When the mere fact of hearing an ordinary person's story, and feeling some way about it, is conflated with social transformation, we end up with a kind of fetishization of human suffering and sentimental responses to it without any actual shift in the power dynamics that reduced that suffering in the first place."

Ultimately, McGregor calls upon the reader to care. Sentimentality is a starting point that can lead to more meaningful responses, but it's up to the person to do the work.

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I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I enjoyed this book. It gave me a lot to think about.

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Thanks to NetGalley and Wilfred Laurier University Press for the advanced reader copy.

This week’s headline? Can books change the world?

Why this book? Time for another non-fiction

Which book format? ARC

Primary reading environment? Couch during lunch break

Any preconceived notions? I expect this to be informative

Identify most with? n/a

Three little words? “pluck and imagination”

Goes well with? Mother/daughter relationships

Recommend this to? People with a moral compass

Other cultural accompaniments: https://secretfeministagenda.com/author/hannahmcgregor/

Grade: 4/5

I leave you with this: “I didn’t know the history of this place, I only knew the stories that had been told to erase that history.”

“But theories are damn seductive, and they can make the raw stuff of experience hurt a whole lot less.”


Written by a podcaster who wanted to experiment with her writing style by adding her podcaster voice in order to “further push [her] own understanding of what forms scholarly knowledge may take,” and McGregor has certainly done just that. With a blend of ideas, methods, but mostly feelings, McGregor takes us through the personal and the academic (I don’t want to say political, but this book does touch on that in a thought-provoking way in terms of performative feminism versus actually taking action). What I liked about this was how it treated podcasting as a valid form of not just self-expression and entertainment, but being informative about important topics while discovering oneself along the way.

A Sentimental Education is available now.

tw: mentions of death, eating disorders, sexual violence, slight kink shaming

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This was my first exposure to Hannah McGregor’s work, and after reading it, it will not be my last. This book is both academic and personal, and McGregor deftly weaves memoir, criticism, and feminist theory to reflect on pop culture and her own life and work. The closest analogue to it I can think of is Elissa Washuta’s White Magic, another book I couldn’t stop thinking about once I finished it. It also feels very teachable, and I will be recommending it to my students.

If you like essays, criticism, or thinking deeply about feminism (especially ethics of care), this one is for you.

Thanks to the publisher and to NetGalley for an early copy of this book.

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I'm just so pleased that this book exists.

There were sections where it seemed like I was highlighting every second sentence and, admittedly, some sections that went over my head a bit. I appreciate that this is a collection of essays that toes the line of being academic-enough while also engaging with a broader audience - I actually think it does this very well, but it's something to be aware of. I want to say that I'd love for Hannah to write more colloquial nonfiction in the future, but I also recognize that she has kind of done this through podcasting. But, maybe something more condensed than several seasons of podcasts? Or more of a deep dive into some of the topics this book introduces.

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